By Chris Emma–
LAKE FOREST, Ill. (CBS) — Moments after the whistle sounded, Bears quarterback Jay Cutler walked back to the sidelines angry over his interception. He turned back and gestured toward the guilty party for the pick, Kevin White.
It wasn’t anything obscene or unfair — just a moment of frustration. The Bears had a 14-10 lead against the Texans on Sunday and had just received the ball to start the second half. White stopped short on an out route, and Texans defensive back Andre Hal hardly had to move for the interception.
The Texans would go on to win 23-14, with that pick proving to be momentum swing the other way.
“I’m kind of glad you didn’t see my reaction after that play,” Bears coach John Fox said Tuesday.
Playing his first NFL regular-season game, White had three catches for 34 yards, two of which came in garbage time. He played 54 snaps (98 percent of Chicago’s offensive snaps) and was targeted seven times, but Cutler looked to him just twice after the interception.
It appeared the Cutler had momentarily lost trust in the team’s 2015 first-round pick.
“We need him,” Cutler said after the game. “He’s going to be fine. We’re not worried about him.”
On the other side of the ball, the Bears’ 2016 first-round pick played a major role. Four days after defensive coordinator Vic Fangio teed off on linebacker Leonard Floyd’s “inconsistent” preseason performance and conditioning level, he played Floyd 60 of the 75 snaps.
Veterans Willie Young and Lamarr Houston took a back seat to Floyd, who recorded his first career sack (technically credited as a half-sack).
Fangio seemed to be moving Floyd all over the defense, utilizing his speed and athleticism in both coverage and the pass rush. Was it resignation from Fangio? There were times that Floyd impressed, but he also got thrown around by bigger, stronger offensive linemen.
“He’s green in a couple things,” Bears linebacker Jerrell Freeman said of Floyd. “He’s a rookie, but I think he’s pretty mature for a rookie.”
Floyd came to the Bears as a bit of a developmental project. He’s still quite raw, learning a new role in Fangio’s defense. In a way, White is a rookie, too, having missed the entire 2015 season due to a shin injury.
Sunday brought the beginning of the NFL careers for White and Floyd. There were rookie moments for both.
Getting exposed was a poor moment for White, who worked so hard during his rehab last season. Cutler has developed a great relationship with White, but creating an on-field rapport is another story.
It was clear early on that White simply needs to find some confidence. He played tentative, which was evident in uncomfortable movements in his routes. White could really use a big play that puts him in the spotlight. He certainly has all the potential to be a good NFL receiver.
“It was a good learning experience for him,” Bears receiver Eddie Royal said of White. “I expect him to come out and play great.”
White is expected to make a major impact instantly for the Bears. He was selected No. 7 overall in Ryan Pace’s first draft as general manager and was tasked with becoming the complement to Alshon Jeffery in the Bears’ passing attack.
Fair or not, Floyd doesn’t face those expectations for his first NFL season. The Bears conceded his weaknesses as a rookie and have expressed faith in his long-term growth. Fangio’s indictments last week served as a reminder to the realities with Floyd.
“He’ll just continue to grow and get better,” Fox said.
Growing pains were evident for the debuts of White and Floyd, with both serving as instrumental parts of the Bears’ future.
There will be many more moments of harsh honesty for the young players, whether it’s scowl from Cutler or tough words from Fangio.
Youth is no excuse in the NFL, and growth must follow. The Bears are counting on it.